A computer generated graphic showing the planned new Donegal Community Stadium
The Finn Harps stadium project is far from dead - that's the overnight news from Finn Park.
In fact, the club has now been informed that its application for grant aid from the State to the tune of €6.7 million is still being considered - and it could yet be granted.
The Finn Harps board met on Monday night, and a letter from the Minister for Education, Donegal based Fine Gael TD, Joe McHugh was circulated.
The Minister, who initially had intended to meet with the board, revealed details of the exactly what stage of the process the grant application is now at.
Minister McHugh informed the Harps board of a reply on the issue that he has got from Brendan Griffin, the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport with Special Responsibility for Tourism and Sport.
On an encouraging note, Minister Griffin said that there is “no need” for Harps to wait for the next round of funding.
He confirmed that the Harps application for funding has been sent from his department, “along with the cost benefit material supplied, to our Strategic Research and Analysis Division (SRAD).”
Furthermore, he explained that all the successful applicants for funding announced recently are also having their applications sent to SRAD “for further assessment and sign-off” as this is a requirement of the Public Spending Code.
Significantly, Minister Griffin added: “In other words, while we didn't recommend a grant for Finn Harps last week, they are at the same stage of the process as the successful applicants. I have no doubt that SRAD will raise queries/concerns and we will have some back and forth with the club before a grant could be recommended but that is not unusual.”
He also pointed out that the situation has been explained to the FAI, as officially the FAI are applicants.
From a Harps’ perspective, this must be seen as good news. The bottom line is that the application for funding to develop the new Donegal Community Stadium is still on the table.
Certainly, it could be argued that the way that the matter has been handled leaves a lot to be desired.
Two weeks ago, it was announced that over 25 major projects - not one of which was in Donegal - were set to receive more than €77 million in State funding under the Sports Capital Programme.
The fact that Finn Harps’ application was not on the list set alarm bells ringing at the Ballybofey-based club, as it was under the impression that everything was in order and that funding would be approved.
Club officials - and fans - are now wondering why, if the Harps application is with SRAD, was it not just announced along with the other 25 projects.
Of course, there are no guarantees at this juncture that the Harps application will get the final green light, but things certainly look more promising now that they after the initial announcement.
Harps first got planning permission for a new stadium in Stranorlar in 2007, with the original intention to develop a 6,600 all-seater stadium.
More than €1.2 million of taxpayers’ money has already been spent on the site and partially construction of the main stand. Revised plans were subsequently submitted.
The €6.7 million being sought would enable Harps to complete the main stand and administration building, pitch, floodlights, car parking and fencing.
It is envisaged that further phases will see the development of a second stand, and terracing behind each goal.
The club also has plans to develop a number of adjoining pitches.
Harps will play in the Premier Division in 2020, for the fourth time in five years.
While the club's Finn Park ground is unquestionably the worst in the division, the club is permitted to play at the top level as it is still subject to a derogation from the FAI due to the plans to move to a new ground less than a kilometre away.
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